The Nigerian Senate on Tuesday passed the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, following in the footsteps of the Nigerian House of Representatives which passed the Bill on December 19, 2018.
In a statement following the passage of the Bill at the Senate, pan-African digital rights organization, Paradigm Initiative commended the two legislative houses for passing the important bill.
The Bill provides for “the protection of human rights online, to protect Internet users in Nigeria from infringement of their fundamental freedoms and to guarantee application of human rights for users of digital platforms and/or digital media.”
WHO SPONSORED THE BILL?
Sponsored by Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam, the Bill has passed through several legislative processes since it was first conceived by Paradigm Initiative at the Internet Freedom Forum Abuja in 2014. First introduced to parliament in April 2016, the bill has now successfully completed its journey through the legislature and on its way to assent by the Presidency.
The passage of the bill was spear headed by Paradigm Initiative which leads advocacy for digital rights in Africa and has embraced policy and legislative intervention as a way to protect digital rights in Africa.
WHY THE BILL?
The United Nations has recognised digital rights as human rights. Civil Society organisations have been working to ensure that rights recognised offline are recognised in the digital space as well. This is especially important in the face of recent internet shutdowns around Africa affecting business and development, misuse of data by governments, illegal surveillance, hate speech, monitoring of online activities by governments and invasion of privacy of citizens
The Bill when passed into Law will safeguard the rights of persons working in the digital space such as bloggers, data owners, developers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
WHAT ARE THE KEY PROVISIONS OF THE BILL?
Online Fundamental Rights and Freedoms
The Bill secures the right to freedom of expression on the Internet subject to any restrictions in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Freedom of Information Act 2011 and other relevant legislations. Most importantly however, it further expands the freedom of Internet users to include ‘ideas or views that may shock, offend or disturb’ or ideas that may be controversial to the Authorities or majority of the population.
It also gives citizens a right to be anonymous when communicating – This places a duty on Internet Service Providers to protect the identity of the Internet user who chooses to post materials anonymously. Internet users cannot also be compelled to adopt real name identity systems.Right to Digital Privacy: – the bill prevents the unlawful interference of anyone’s online privacy. This provision makes it an offence to gain access to anyone’s online information or data without permission. The Bill provides that the Rule of Confidentiality shall apply to the entire provisions. In effect, personal information or details about an individual that they do not wish to share, shall remain confidential and any unpermitted access to it is prohibited under this Clause
Right to Freedom of Expression: – Clause 13(17) and (18) provide examples of situations where the government violates the freedom of expression of citizens. Censorship on the internet or banning of certain web pages or isolating an entire region from the rest of the world by the State is a violation of the freedom of expression. Also jamming of wireless signals and other means of censorship which deprives individuals of their right to freedom of opinion and expression is prohibited under the Bill. This should hopefully take care of the fear of internet shutdowns which many other African countries f for instance Cameroon has been experiencing.
It also takes care of situations where the government may seem to limit freedom of expression under the guise of national security. protection of national security can be triggered if it can be demonstrated that the expression is intended to incite imminent violence.
Communication Surveillance: – The Bill under Clause 7(d) communication surveillance shall be based on the principle of necessity and as a last resort. The onus of establishing justification shall always be on the government and or the entity requesting surveillance. The surveillance is conducted only when it is the only means of achieving a legitimate aim or it is the means least likely to infringe upon human rights.
This should hopefully restrict incidents of government surveillance to situatiosn where is is only absolutely necessary. It also creates a duty to notify persons under surveillance in order to give them opportunities for redress. A person may however not be notified where it would jeopardise the purpose of surveillance or put lives in danger
Those who have been subject of illegal surveillance are also entitled to compensation.
Whistleblower Protection: – Interestingly, the Bill seeks to protect whistleblowers from any form of sanction, attack, arrest or prosecution under Clause 10(17). Any person who has knowledge of any information regarding a crime or offence can, under the protection of this Clause, report to the relevant authorities
Prohibition of ‘Hate Speech’: –
Hate speech has recently been a topical issue in Nigeria. The Bill has been able to fill the gap of providing a concrete definition of hate speech. It defines ‘hate speech’ under Clause 13(13) as any speech, gesture or conduct capable of inciting violence or prejudicial action against any individual or group, by disparaging or intimidating an individual or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability or sexual orientation.
This helps to make a distinction between online incitement to extremism and genuinne rights to expression. Anyone who posts material that fall under the definition of ‘hate speech’ is liable to prosecution.
Peaceful Freedom of Assembly and Association Online: – the right to associate or assemble as a group online on social media platforms or networks is also covered. Citizens engaging in peaceful assemblies shall have the right to access the internet and other new technologies at all times without interference except when restricted under the law.
Digital Assets Devolution: The digital assets or data sets of an owner such as passwords, digital contracts, pictures, bank accounts, writings, social interactions etc., can be inherited to be inherited by his next of kin or heir under Clause 8(2)
Data Protection: –
The bill also delves into data protection by providing that service providers have the duty to strictly protect the privacy rights of owners against violation by anyone. Where a provider loses data of an owner, he shall be liable for damages commensurate to the value of data lost, plus interest at prevailing rate.
The bill also secures the confidentiality of personal data and information of citizens by requiring any requests for private data to follow legally stipulated procedures. It also may require a Court warrant to request for private data. This may be a good one for Nigerian citizens especially techies who in recent times have complained about security agencies randomly searching their laptops and phones without any lawful reason to do so
Even though this bill touches on data protection, experts in the industry still however believe that a comprehensive data protection law is still needed in Nigeria especially in the light of the European General Data Protection Regulation GDPR which is to come into force by May this year.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE BILL?
The bill will now proceed for the final assent by the President. It is hoped that Nigerians especially members of the tech community directly affected by some of these rights will also join in ensuring that the bill goes smoothly along the legislative process and is signed by Mr. President.